“I cannot hear you!”
Despereaux discovers the king weeping in the princess’s bedroom.
Reader, have you ever seen a king cry? When the powerful are made weak, when they are revealed to be human, to have hearts, their diminishment is nothing short of terrifying.
You can be sure that Despereaux was terrified. Absolutely. But he spoke up anyway.
“Sir?” the mouse said to the king.
But the king did not hear him, and as Despereaux watched, King Phillip dropped the tapestry and took his great golden crown from his lap and used it to beat himself on the chest over and over again. The king, as I have already mentioned, had several faults. He was nearsighted. He made ridiculous, unreasonable, difficult-to-enforce laws. And much in the way of Miggery Sow, he was not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.
But there was one extraordinary, wonderful, admirable thing about the king. He was a man who was able to love with the whole of his heart. And just as he had loved the queen with the whole of his heart, so, too, he loved his daughter with the whole of it, even more than the whole. He loved the Princess Pea with every particle of his being, and she had been taken from him.
This is the danger we take in loving anyone: the risk of loss. The narrator points out that despite all the stupid things he does, he has incredible courage just to keep loving.
But what Despereaux had come to say to the king had to be said and so he tried again. “Excuse me,” he said. He wasn’t certain, really, how a mouse should address a king. “Sir” did not seem like a big-enough word. Despereaux thought about it for a long moment.
He cleared his throat. He spoke as loudly as he was capable of speaking. “Excuse me, Most Very Honored Head Person.”
King Phillip stopped beating his crown against his chest. He looked around the room.
“Is that a bug speaking to me?” he asked.
“No,” said Despereaux, “I am a mouse. We met before.”
“A mouse!” bellowed the king. “A mouse is but one step removed from a rat.”
“Sir,” said Despereaux, “Most Very Honored Head Person, please, you have to listen to me. This is important. I know where your daughter is.”
The king is displaying his worst tendencies in this crisis, understandable as it may be…
“Sir, Most Very Honored Head Person, sir,” said Despereaux as he wiped the king’s tears out of his own eyes, “she’s in the dungeon.”
“Liar,” said the king. He sat back up. “I knew it. All rodents are liars and thieves. She is not in the dungeon. My men have searched the dungeon.”
“But no one really knows the dungeon except the rats, sir. There are thousands of places where she could be hidden and only the rats would know. Your men would never be able to find her if the rats did not want her found.”
“Acccccck,” said the king, and he clapped his hands over his ears. “Do not speak to me of rats and what they know!” he shouted. “Rats are illegal. Rats are against the law. There are no rats in my kingdom. They do not exist.”
At this point he stops listening to Despereaux altogether, covering his ears and speaking over him, because he doesn’t want to believe him.
Despereaux sat and stared at him in dismay. What should he do now? He put a nervous paw up to his neck and pulled at the red thread, and suddenly his dream came flooding back to him . . . the dark and the light and the knight swinging his sword and the terrible moment when he had realized that the suit of armor was empty.
And then, reader, as he stood before the king, a wonderful, amazing thought occurred to the mouse. What if the suit of armor had been empty for a reason? What if it had been empty because it was waiting?
“You know me,” that was what the knight in his dream had said.
“Yes,” said Despereaux out loud in wonder. “I do know you.”
“I can’t hear you,” sang the king.
“I’ll have to do it myself,” said the mouse. “I will be the knight in shining armor. There is no other way. It has to be me.”
Despereaux turned. He left the weeping king. He went to find the threadmaster.
Next time: the rest of the thread…